| Holy Cross Wilderness
This is a supplement trip report to look for missing hiker James Nelson in Holy Cross Wilderness, who came overdue after Oct 3rd.
Day #1 - 10/20/10 (Weds) - I drove up to the 'bridge out' point of Fancy Pass Road (about two miles past the Missouri Lakes & Fancy Pass Trailheads). This road eventually meets the VDL Jeep road to Holy Cross City. I hiked from the bridge out point to the Newman Mine shaft, then traversed to Mulhall Lakes to Fancy Lake via the top of Fancy Pass. It was dark by the time I reached Fancy Pass and I returned to my camp on Fancy Road under headlamp.
Day #2 - 10/21/10 - I packed a full pack and headed out pre-dawn to Holy Cross City. I checked the HC1, HC3 & Fancy adits which were the ones I really wanted to get to. The HC1 is a vertical shaft - I tied a strobe to 200' of 550 cord and still not not reach the bottom of the shaft. On the other hand, I didn't see any signs that someone had fallen or entered the shaft. I checked the 'unnamed' shaft point on the way up to Cleveland Lake - again no sign of entry. From Holy Cross City I went up to Cleveland Lake (off his route, but I figured why not). Aside the teaming trout, no signs anyone had been up there. From Cleveland lake I traversed (Class 3+) down to the trail that begins up the Fall Creek Pass though the staircase of seven lakes known as the Seven Sisters.
HC2 Mine adit
Cleveland Lake overlook - Mt Whitney adjacent
Just a side note to set the record straight: some asked if the lakes themselves had been searched - because with a 70lb pack you could surely be pulled under if you tripped at a shoreline while filtering water or what not... Cleveland, Fancy, Seven Sisters, Hunky Dory, and most all of Constantine are so clear you can see the bottom at the deepest points (see photos). These lakes do not have ice on them yet, so I want to put that rumour to rest - if he fell in a lake with a pack on, we would surely see him. The only lakes this might not apply to are Tuhare Lakes below the Halo Ridge Traverse. These lakes are fed by couloirs of the Holy Cross Ridge and do not have a gradual shoreline so to speak. They deepen fast. Still you can see into them quite a ways from Halo Ridge and the aerial search.
I ascended the Seven Sister lake chain to Fall Creek Pass. Since the area from Fall Creek Pass to the outskirts of Lake Constantine is tundra, I broke trail at the pass and ascended the unnamed 13er adjacent from Mt Whitney and scanned the entire area with a spotter scope. I then traversed to other side of the up Mt Whitney and did the same thing. Both vantage points give a clear shot from Fall Creek Pass to Constantine Lake below.
one of the Seven Sisters lakes
I circled each of the Seven Sisters during the descent and checked rock alcoves on the way down. I descended down to Hunky Dory lake, circled it and the outlying area near the cliff bands. Made back down to camp just as a headlight was needed. I decided to drive from the south side of the wilderness boundary back to Half Moon / Fall Creek Trailheads that night.
Fall Creek Pass
Side note: I put a small poster at the Holy Cross City townsite sign. When I drove down I stopped off at the Fancy Pass Trailhead to place one, but someone had already beat me to it - whoever that was - thank you.
Fancy Pass Trailhead
Day #3 - I met up with 'Mountain Woman' at Half Moon campground. The snow was picking up at a viscous pace by the time we reached the pass. We were geared for pretty heavy duty stuff - both of us have summited peaks in the winter, so we were ready for whatever was thrown at us. We covered the Half Moon Pass trail to the point at East Cross Creek where James would have to had bushwhacked up East Cross Creek from the lower Cross Creek trail. I tied marker ribbon every 100 yards on the descent down that drainage. I noticed ribbon of another color tied in area down that drainage from SAR. We covered every conceivable trail headed down to the last cliffbands that over look Cross Creek Trail. This bushwhack is no picnic - I have seen other reports regarding this route. The is a series of game trails that wind up through cliffbands in places, but it would not be an easy route. The snow was really starting to pick up and had already completely erased our tracks so we opted to ascend back to East Cross Creek trail junction. From there we surveyed every conceivable route he may have taken - including the possible mistaken route in to the Bowl of Tears. We acsended back over Half Moon Pass and returned to Half Moon Campground in low visibility. A forest ranger was at the trailhead going through permits. We had a brief conversation about the oddity of this whole thing - she was a very cool person though.
Half Moon Pass - 'mountain_woman' prepping for the descent in to Cross Creek
Looking down in to Cross Creek from East Cross Creek
The North Ridge & Mt of the Holy Cross
Bowl of Tears from E. Cross Creek
Traverse back to Half Moon
In all, 15 miles were covered on Aug 14th when I did the standard route to Mt Holy Cross, and traversed the Halo Ridge route to Notch Mountain and down Fall Creek Trail.
The past three days an additional 34 miles we covered of all the places I thought were most likely. I could go on speculating for days, but my intuition tells me either something went wrong early in his trek at Constantine Lake, or somewhere along Cross Creek.
If the snow wouldn't have hit so heavy up there this evening I would have gone another day. For anyone heading up over the weekend, be careful. The shoulder season is giving away and conditions are varied. At Half Moon 1-2 inches had fallen, 3-4 at Half Moon Pass, and it looks like 6+ on the ascent from East Cross Creek to Mount of the Holy Cross. The lower areas have less snow. I would recommend crampons up high, probably yak's on the Half Moon Trail near the narrows.
Another thing I want to add - if you go up there (especially on the south side - Homestake Rd) - WEAR AN ORANGE VEST! Elk Rifle season is now open. One would think that since you are in wilderness you wouldn't have to worry about that - but logic does not go that far.
My short story about hunters I encountered at Seven Sisters yesterday:
When I was descending the Seven Sisters lakes area I literally came over a bluff and right down on to two hunters between lake #3 & #4. Face paint, the Elmer Fudd outfits, dogs, the whole nine yards... Yes, halloween came early that day. I told them to keep their eyes open for a missing hiker that has been overdue since Oct 3rd. The response I got was "well where did he go missing at?"
To cut short - I was dealing with Dumb & Dumber. Play it safe, where colors out there! Normally I would be intimidated coming up upon two guys with high powered rifles in the middle of nowhere. Guess it is the First Sergeant in me - I just had to tell them to get their dogs on a leash...
Day #1 & #2 were fall conditions. Day #3 was winter conditions and it was going from bad to worse as the day went on.
I can't help but to feel pretty defeated here.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):